Forest Service employee helps Georgia school achieve national green ribbon status

Max Silvera, Jane Knowlten
Office of Communication, U.S. Forest Service
August 12th, 2013 at 7:00PM

In Acworth, Ga., children at Ford Elementary School live almost every child’s dream – outdoor classrooms and science labs in a butterfly garden.

The school was selected as one of 64 U.S. Department of Education’s National Green Ribbon Schools for 2013. The department’s recognition program honors schools that are exemplary in reducing environmental impact and costs; improving the health and wellness of students and staff; and providing effective environmental and sustainability education. The Ford school program focuses on a broad array of environmental and science education goals and involves students, teachers and parents as volunteers in hands-on learning experiences to educate students.

Among the volunteers are Dennis Krusac, an endangered species specialist with the U.S. Forest Service’s Southern Region in Atlanta, and Jackie Belwood, Krusac’s wife and an assistant professor of biology with Georgia Highlands College.

Krusac’s involvement started in 1991 when his son, Brandon, was in the first grade and the school had just opened.

“I came to school to show the kids my animal skulls, walked around campus and realized they were sitting on an educational goldmine,” Krusac said. “The campus consisted of a riparian forest with a perennial stream, a wet meadow with a high diversity of native wildflowers, an upland oak-hickory forest and plenty of open spaces for learning gardens and a bluebird trail. So we got the school certified as a schoolyard habitat.

The garden program greatly expanded in 1993 with the arrival of Catherine Padgett, a new teacher at Ford who helped the school put in its first pollinator garden.

“We moved beyond just science and put in gardens to teach kids math, history and social studies to ensure the entire curriculum was involved,” Krusac added.

Students participate in service learning projects such as growing produce for homeless people. In outdoor classrooms they are involved daily in research and environmental education.

“The kids at Ford Elementary are a huge part of why we won this award,” said Principal Jamie Frost. “They participate in activities focused on health, wellness and living a healthy lifestyle.”

But Frost also credits parent-volunteers for the school’s success.

“We are fortunate to have wonderful volunteers for our Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics night,” she said.

“Dennis started as a parent here 20 years ago and has been a part of our school ever since. His children graduated from Ford Elementary more than nine years ago, but he is always here when we need him,” Frost said. “You can find him at every workday or science event volunteering many, many long hours. We are so blessed to have volunteers at our school – but especially volunteers such as Dennis Krusac.”